Japanese people panic when they can’t answer questions?


“feelings” or “emotion” is a word that means showing concern or consideration for other people. In business and other situations, Japanese people have the custom of using this “emotion” for people’s effects rather than the results. It is said that in practice (実際), compared with Western culture, Japan’s is a sentimental (感傷的な、情にもろい) one. In the past,  “Noh” (能) and “kabuki” (歌舞伎) play  deep-seated grudges (怨念)  and passions were constant themes. Japanese ghost stories (怪談話) always take up (取り上げる) the themes of obsession (執着), and love and hate (愛憎). On the other hand, Western tales of the occult are about devils and monsters, or simply serial killers (連続殺人者) or crimes of insanity (狂気).

In TV dramas and the like (〜などでは), much more time is spent on expressions of love and emotional exchanges (情の交換) than in Western style story development (ストーリー展開). In Japanese dramas, for things like breakup scenes, it is a standard technique for characters to stare (じっと見る) into each other’s tear-filled eyes (涙目), with background music filling the conversation with emotion. When some foreigners see such Japanese dramas, they may judge them as being too sentimental. At times (時には), people say that the expressions of feeling are so overdone (大袈裟) that they feel embarrassed (恥ずかしい) when they watch.


Japanese have feeling hearts?

This can be found (見ることができる) everywhere in the business world. When Japanese sales reps (営業員) visit customers in the country (地方の), when the sales people say they made a big effort to come so far (わざわざ遠いところを来られた), they get a lot of orders. Not only that (それだけでなく), but often, the deal is made (商談が成立する) because the suppliers have visited many times and are thought of highly (評価して)  for their efforts. How much did they sweat? (どれだけ汗をかいたか?) Westerners are surprised when they see the Japanese custom of judging people more by the process, such as how enthusiastically (熱心に) someone tackled (取り組む) something, than by the results.

Thinking about it the Japanese way (日本流に考えれば), doing something enthusiastically is evidence (証拠) that the person is really keen (やる気がある、熱心な) to do it, and even if the person fails this time, one respects that kind of person’s enthusiasm (情熱) and can expect (期待する) success the next time. Westerners judge people’s ability based on results in a rational (合理的な) way, and from their perspective (見方、考え方), the Japanese approach is not logical. They can’t understand it because it is too sentimental.




Japanese are bad at talking in front of people?

When Japanese people give speeches, our logic is constructed on the introduction, development, turn, and conclusion (起承転結) style. That is (すなわち), we give an example, or explain about the background, next construct the point of our argument (論旨), and finally tell the conclusion. The “ochi” at the end is like the punch line (聞かせどころ、落ち) of a traditional Japanese “rakugo” (落語) monologue‘s (一人芝居、独白) joke.

However, only people from countries with a Chinese influence  (漢字文化圏) can understand this type of logical construction. In the West, there is no introduction, development, turn, and conclusion style. In this style of logical construction, first they tell the conclusion, next explain the reason, and then give examples. At the end of the speech, they wrap things up (まとめをして). When Westerners hear Japanese people’s speeches, even if the person can speak English, the foreigners are unable to follow the flow (話の流れ), mistake the introduction for the conclusion, and get confused (混乱する).

Unfortunately, the Westerners don’t understand the point, and to make sure, following their way of doing things (彼らのやり方), they interrupt the Japanese person while he or she is talking, and do things like confirming (確認する) things or explaining what they don’t understand. When foreigners do this, Japanese people get more and more nervous (緊張して) because we aren’t used to being interrupted (邪魔されることに慣れていない), and start over again with the introduction.




Japanese do nothing but apologize?

Japanese people worry too much about our own English. Then, when we give speeches, we apologize for not being good at English at the beginning. Sometimes we say, “I’m not good at English, so I feel nervous,” so the listeners think the Japanese person has no confidence (自信がない) and wonder if there is any value in listening to what he or she is saying. Be aware that when giving speeches or presentations, Japanese people and Westerners have different tacit rules (暗黙のルール).

Japanese people think that the person giving the speech should convey (伝える) the message to the listeners clearly, and that he or she should speak with perfect knowledge and knowhow. On the other hand, Westerners think  that in order to understand the person giving the speech, the listeners have a responsibility to make active efforts to understand.

Therefore, Japanese people should not apologize for not being able to speak English. We should start by saying clearly what we want to talk about. Anyway, when Westerners are the listeners, if there is something they don’t understand, they tend to speak out and ask questions.




Why do Japanese people always get so flustered (混乱する)?

Westerners think that listener has the responsibility to understand the speaker, so in many cases, they shower (浴びせる) the person with questions. Japanese people believe it is good manners to listen to a person’s whole speech, and have a custom of listening to someone until he or she has finished speaking, so we are very confused by this attitude. In particular, if we don’t have confidence in our english, we are even more bewildered (当惑する).

When a Japanese person is not good at english, it is good to make a rule before the presentation, saying “My presentation will be about 15 minutes. Please refrain from (控えて) asking questions while I’m talking. I will take time at the end to answer them.” One of the roles (役割) of the speaker is to control the meeting and be a kind of traffic cop (交通警官), directing (管理する、指示する) the people asking questions.